DOE awards $3 million for innovative solar PV research projects

The U.S. Department of Energy selected 19 projects (9 in CSP, 10 in PV), with total funding of $6 million, that introduce innovative, targeted ideas in early-stage solar research and development. will pursue. The projects have been selected through the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) 2022 Funding Program. SIPS projects focus on new, high-risk or high-impact ideas that can deliver significant results within the first year of implementation, quickly validate new concepts and lay the groundwork for further research. SIPS is an ongoing SETO program that has funded more than 100 projects since its inception in 2015.

The SIPS program also aims to increase the diversity of clean energy researchers by streamlining the application process and encouraging applications from researchers who have never applied for or selected a SETO award. Of the 19 recipients, 15 are first-time principal investigators of a SETO-funded project.

“Bringing new researchers into the DOE ecosystem with their bold, innovative ideas is an incredibly fruitful way to advance our clean energy work and break through incremental improvements,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “I can’t wait to see the knowledge and technological advancements that will grow out of these new solar projects.”

Projects have been awarded in two solar energy research areas: PV and concentrating solar thermal energy (see CSP winners here† PV projects will improve power conversion efficiency, energy output, reuse and recycling processes, lifespan and manufacturability of PV technologies. The following organizations have been selected to receive PV SIPS awards:

Arizona State University (Tempe, Arizona)
Project Name: Planar Transformer Systems for Modular Power Electronics in Low Cost Long Distance PV Systems
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project team will design new power electronics inverters for grid connection of PV systems that are modular and redundant. The new converters will be smaller than current devices, easy to repair and upgrade, and made with methods and materials that are less sensitive to changes in the supply chain. This supports longer operational life while maintaining high performance in PV systems.

Argonne National Laboratory (Lemont, Illinois)
Project Name: Solar-Leap: a democratized tool to manage the long-term effects of environmental and operational conditions on asset performance decline
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop tools to accurately analyze and predict the long-term reliability of PV modules in various extreme climates and related stress conditions. Current tools only use small data sets or lab-based experiments, which may be less accurate in predicting the long-term performance of PV modules in the real world. The new tools developed by the project team will use sensor data and maintenance records from an extensive fleet of PV modules to more accurately determine the effects of field conditions and develop strategies to mitigate these negative effects. The team will work closely with members of the PV industry – with a specific focus on minority-owned and resource-poor communities – to gather feedback and assess the impact of the tool on the operation and maintenance of their to demonstrate PV assets.

Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio)
Project Name: Accelerated learning cycles of advanced silicon architectures: approaches to cell processing and their effect on degradation mechanisms
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop a process that can quickly predict the performance and durability of new materials for silicon p-type cells without having to fully optimize the new device first. This saves research time and effort by identifying which new silicon PV cell designs have the best potential to achieve both high efficiency and long operational life. The process will examine a broad spectrum of factors that can affect device performance — from the stability of the silicon material itself to accelerated aging tests of the module components in different climates — to develop these predictions.

University of Alabama (Tusaloosa, Alabama)
Project Name: Precursor engineering of fully inorganic perovskite absorber and fast photonic annealing for highly stable large area perovskite solar panels
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project makes it possible to print perovskite solar cells at high speed using a novel modified perovskite material and innovative processing techniques. This method will help overcome current barriers to perovskite cell production, such as instability and long processing times. The team will use a perovskite material where the organic molecules are replaced with inorganic elements to increase stability, and combine it with outer layers made of metal oxide materials to provide physical protection and improve the transfer of electricity from the module. These will then be used to make modules from a liquid solution through a process called slot-die coating, which can be scaled up for use in a high-speed production line. The team aims to create mini modules with a power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. This combination of new materials and techniques has the potential to provide low cost, stable perovskite photovoltaic modules.

University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
Project Name: Advanced development and stability of perovskite solar cells using in-line electrochemical methods
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop an instrument to test for defects or degradation in perovskite photovoltaic cells that can be integrated into a high throughput production line. This will provide a low cost, highly scalable method to understand the impact of different materials and production methods on the stability of perovskite PV cells and enable comprehensive perovskite PV production.

University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut)
Project Name: Performance assessment of PV panels using impedance spectroscopy
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop a tool that can analyze PV modules while they are in operation. The tool will measure how the PV module output power and life are affected by different light intensities, material characteristics such as defects, impurities and mechanical properties, and module-level characteristics such as electrical connectors.

University of Delaware (Newark, Delaware)
Project Name: In-situ hydrogen microstructural characterization of silicon heterojunction passivation: addressing open-circuit voltage degradation and mitigation pathways
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop a method to measure microstructural changes in the silicon layer of PV modules under accelerated heat and light stress tests, which are designed to predict the operational lifetime of the modules. The project team will focus on a particular type of silicon PV cells with thin layers of silicon to which hydrogen has been added to alter the electrical properties. These layers increase the efficiency of the PV cell, but can reduce the stability of the material. This new method will measure how the hydrogen responds to the accelerated lifetime tests and use this information to develop mitigation strategies and enable an operational lifetime of 30 to 50 years for silicon heterojunction PV cells.

University of Hawaii at Manoa (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Project Name: Monolithic encapsulation of perovskite solar cells with transparent conductive composites for long-term stability
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project team will investigate a new sealing material for use as a protective outer layer on perovskite PV cells. Most sealants in use today must be applied at high temperatures, which can degrade the perovskite material. This new material could be applied at room temperature. The new material can also replace glass in cells where the glass is used as a protective layer, reducing the cost of these modules.

University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Project Name: High efficiency recycled silicon solar cells
DOE Award Amount: $250,000
Project summary: This project investigates new cost-effective and environmentally friendly methods for recycling silver metal used in silicon PV modules. The silver used for electrical contacts in silicon solar cells is one of the most expensive components and is currently recovered from old or broken silicon solar cells using nitric acid – a technique that can be environmentally harmful and inefficient. This project uses a new method called laser ablation to remove silicon from PV modules by converting them into small particles. Laser ablation is a low environmental impact process that provides a higher yield of recycled silver, and the silver particles recovered during the process can be used directly in the production of new silicon modules.

Uriel Solar (Westlake Village, California)
Project Name: Exploring single crystal cadmium telluride on silicon to enable future PV devices
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Project summary: This project will develop methods to apply high-performance layers of cadmium telluride on top of silicon in PV cells. These layers have the potential for significantly higher energy conversion efficiency compared to the silicon-only or cadmium telluride-only PV cells, but adding this layer can be challenging. This team will analyze and optimize methods for adding the cadmium telluride layer to maximize stability, efficiency and ease of fabrication.

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